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You Need Both Knowledge and Experience On Your Side

We all know how critically revealing audio equipment can be. That's part of the fascination – but it's also most of the problem in making your system perform at its best. If the setup of each component in the chain is slightly less than optimum, then the cumulative effect on performance can be disastrous. We concentrate so much on selecting individual components that the system's overall performance is often overlooked. We do not understand which piece contributes to what or how to judge, assess, and adjust the whole.

Purchasing an audio system used to be a more personal process involving a local dealer and often a long-term relationship. Which is the way it should be. But the Internet has brought about a sea change in how we purchase many consumer goods and how we learn to integrate them into our lives. For many items we purchase, it's an effective and convenient way to shop, delivering the lowest price and sufficient information to make it work.

But it does not work for audio systems.

It has taken me over 40 years of constant practice and accumulated experience to do what I do. Experience gained with many products in thousands of different rooms and systems. With the best will in the world, it's not possible, and you aren't going to accumulate the necessary knowledge and skills, tinkering at the weekends and reading internet forums. Without an experienced and knowledgeable practitioner in your home to guide your audio system's assembly, positioning, and optimization, the whole will inevitably be far less than the sum of the parts. That knowledge used to come (or should have come) from your local dealer, but the shrinking market and price pressure from the Internet means those dealers that can still deliver that service is becoming an endangered species. Many buyers look to take advantage of the lower online prices but need to recognize where those savings are made. After all, how difficult can it be to plug in a power amp? Yet, in reality, you really would be amazed…

When you install a new power amp, you should look at placement, support, AC supply, grounding and polarity, choice of connections, and the integrity of those connectors. It would help if you cleaned all of the contacts and dressed the cables. You should be attending to any variable operating parameters (switchable output modes or damping factor, input sensitivity, etc.) And then you should be shifting your speakers. Yes. Change your power amp, and you change the bass characteristics, damping, and extension of the system in the room, which means shifting the speakers for optimum performance. Otherwise, you won't hear what the new amp (or the rest of the system) performs.

Suddenly, plugging in your new amp yourself doesn't seem like such a bargain…

Allowing audio components to perform at their best, contributing to a system "whole" that is musically greater than the sum of the parts, is a painstaking, detailed, incremental process – a case of doing everything and doing it in the correct order. Any missteps quickly undermine the musical integrity of the whole – yet we've all been guilty of making precisely the kind of "straight substitutions" I've referred to above, partly because nobody is discussing the issues involved, and most audiophiles are unaware of them.

That's where I come in.


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